Sunday, June 22, 2014

Mama's Table, Baguio

On my sister's prodding, I texted Chef Vicky Tinio Clemente when I was in Baguio last week. 

Lita's friend, Beng, had been able to book a group of 3 for dinner because Vicky was already cooking for a bigger group. Although Vicky only takes one group at a time, Beng had convinced her to include her little group. When Beng heard I was going to be in Baguio that same weekend, she told me that maybe, just maybe, Vicky could also accommodate our family of 4.

"I heard you're cooking dinner for a group of people tomorrow. In the wild chance you have room for a few more, we are four",  I was very hesitant to ask just the day before, but Lita kept texting me from Manila''"Call Vicky, okay? I'm sure you'll love it."

Vicky texted me back on Saturday noon to say yes, she could accommodate us that same night.

What luck! Hopeful diners usually book way ahead, and make it a point to gather a group for the experience. Here we were, spontaneously asking, and spontaneously being included! Happiness!

  We arrived in time to help devour breads and dips, fresh oysters and cheese.

Chef Vicky opens her home, for private dinners (six diners minimum). She usually books only one group at a time but I think she scanned her guest list and guessed correctly that we all knew each other. 

When we got there, it felt like we had entered an aunt's home and were greeting cousins. We socialized over the appetizers, then sat down in two different tables.

Too bad it was already dark when we got there and we couldn't appreciate the view. I heard the view of the mountains from her house is spectacular.

After about thirty minutes of socializing and appetizers, it was time to take our seats and begin our 8-course degustation meal.

This is a truffled custard on top of caramelized onions and mushrooms served inside an eggshell. The finger toasts had anchovy butter.

This was the first time the girls were experiencing a dinner as fancy as this and they were excited at the sight of the flatware they were going to use.

Next was a very clean tasting broth poured over a dollop of chicken mousse. Chef Vicky came to the table to describe each dish. She also explained, in great detail, how everything was cooked and the many unusual steps necessary to achieve the flavors.

In between the soup and the next dish was this unique palette cleanser--a cheese crisp topped with a melted marshmallow. Salty and sweet at the same time.

Then came the fish course--a firm but very tender halibut in a flavorful sauce.  I should be able to describe exactly what was in the sauce because Vicky did explain it, but I don't remember the details.

After the fish, we needed to take a short break. The meat course had just been seared and was being finished off in the oven.  It still needed to rest for a few minutes before being sliced and served.

The evening was casual and relaxed and we were in the company of old acquaintances. We didn't mind the pacing and lingering over interesting conversation.

Now to continue. This little amuse bouche dumpling prepared us for the meat course. Again, I forget exactly what this was but it was very delicious.

And finally, the  roast tenderloin with a red wine sauce and a serving of rissoni pasta and haricot verts.

One can order a simpler 5-course degustation meal for children but I think these girls would be very upset if I did. They were enjoying this meal immensely and were polishing everything off their plates!

We finished off with a plate of greens--watercress with pomelo, orange and very sweet pineapple, tossed with a citrus dressing. I loved this.

For the finale, a light but sinful pavlova with fresh mangoes and strawberries, topped with chocolate sauce. The girls inhaled theirs and C was bold enough to ask for another one. Just like in a aunt's house, another serving appeared before her.

What a lovely evening this turned out to be, and a unique experience for all of us.

 The other group sat in the big table

Chef Vicky's house is beautiful, welcoming and cozy. Her mother joined us before and after the dinner. At 93 years old, she is elegant and animated and obviously enjoys these gatherings Vicky has at home.

I'm glad I listened to Lita and Beng, happy I texted Vicky, and delighted to have had this unusual experience at Mama's Table. Sometimes the best experiences just happen without much planning.

Salamat Chef Vicky! We loved our evening with you!

Mama's Table 
by Vicky Tinio Clemente
+ 63 915 643 8775

The Coconut Crab of Batanes

We heard so much about the coconut crab being a delicacy and a must-try in Batanes.

Strangely, it wasn't readily available in many restaurants. We later learned that, although it has been declared a threatened species, coconut crab can still be served locally. It just can't be exported out of the province. 

Food in Batanes is not cheap because resources are scarce and some food items are flown in. But P1,800 per kilo for something local, with most of its weight in the shell?  Anyway, we thought we'd regret bypassing the opportunity so we decided to try it. Suckers.

(pictures of crab from here)

We ordered 2 kilos for our group of 11. Bigger suckers.

The crab was presented to us in pieces on a big platter. While excited to  dig in, we were dismayed to find mostly legs. How did we not notice that this crab had no body? This anthropod is mostly long spindly legs and sacs that make up what looks like the body and the butt. The only real meaty part of the whole crab are the two pincers.

  the sacs are filled with crab fat 

Let me qualify that most of us are crab-eaters and know how to extract meat from the legs and happy to go through all the crab cavities to get at the flesh. We really tried to find the meat in this crab but there wasn't much.  As for the taste? Bland and at times tough.

I definitely prefer the fleshy alimango (mud crab) or the sweet alimasag (blue or spider crab) which is abundant in other parts of the country--and not even endangered or expensive.

It was such a let-down that I didn't even take pictures of the cooked crab (I had to get the crab pictures online)

Our verdict? Unless you really enjoy aligue, don't bother. Let them live.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Honesty Coffee Shop, Batanes

So much has already been written about Honesty Coffee Shop in Ivana, Batanes but I didn't see this store back in 1995 when we were there.  It seems that it opened that same year.

Since that time, any feature article on Batanes would mention this unique store.

The store is stocked with little snacks like chips, hard boiled eggs, crackers and candies--just like a sari-sari store. There are also some souvenir items. 

But there is no one minding the store. You help yourself to whatever you want, and leave your payment in a box--hence the name: "Honesty" store name. I don't know where the "coffee shop" comes from unless there is a thermos of coffee which I missed.

Signs around the store that say "God is watching you"  or "God knows Hudas not pay" is enough to keep you honest.

The owners had to be tending a farm instead of hanging out in a store, so this model was devised out of necessity. Over the past 20 years, it has turned out to be pure marketing genius.

It's not just a store anymore--it's now a feel-good tourist spot since everyone who comes to Batanes likes to see and photograph the "Honesty Coffee Shop" (just like us). Sometimes they even leave money (not like us) without even taking anything.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Ivana town, Batanes

From my trip to Batanes in 1995, I remember the churches with brightly-colored facades.  This is San Jose de Ivana church. It has been nicely maintained throughout the years.

Here I am with fellow golfers (yes, I was a golfer in another life) in front of the same church in 1995. 

I remember we had a nice visit with the parish priest back them. Too bad I didn't take down his name.


Today the grounds of the church are a bit more manicured. Look at how big these podocarpus maki trees are. In Manila, we see them usually as bushes or hedges.

The boats to Sabtang island leave from Ivana town. The church faces the pier and Sabtang.

To the left of the pier is the famous "Honesty Cafe".

 I love the rustic windows of Batanes.

The view of the sea and Sabtang must be spectacular from up there.

But I'm already tired just watching them from down here. 

(I can hear my dad's voice in my head. "Haaay nakuuuu Marivic! Whaaat are those kids doing up theeeere?!?!?!")

Exploring.  Having fun. Batanes is beautiful. Can't say it enough.

(I'm glad they got down safely. whew!)

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The House of Dakay in Ivana, Batanes

The "house of Dakay" is said to be the oldest house in Ivana, Batanes. There was once a Lola Ida who lived in the house, and was considered the most photographed Ivatan in Batanes. I read though that she passed away early this year.

I don't know who takes care of the house now.

Tourism is really all about marketing, and how to present things. House of Dakay is one good example.  It could've easily been just one of the original stone houses in Batanes, like the others we saw around Batan and Sabtang islands.

The difference is someone had the bright idea of writing down the history, and for good reason, because there IS a story to tell!

This is a regular photo-op stop now in all the tours I've seen of Batanes.

Even the home we stayed in has a lot of history. It is written down in their "welcome book" for all the guests to read. This type of marketing effort always makes things more interesting and charming.

 Batanes has still more to offer, and seeing the way "house of Dakay" is presented is quite promising.

If someone just digs up more information (and gossip) about the other homes, weave some stories together--there may be other interesting homes to visit.

Aside from who lived here, it would be fascinating to know how these homes were built: how they prepared the stones, how they bonded them together with lime, and other architectural details.

The mayor of Sabtang told us that today, it costs more money to build a traditional stone house compared to building one made of hollow blocks and concrete. Because of this, more people are abandoning the stone houses to build modern homes.

And yet, that's the charm of Batanes--that the province seems untouched by modern conveniences. The stone houses are a reminder of another era.

I hope the ones remaining will be protected the way house of Dakay is preserved and respected.


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